GOP mum on DOJ's decision to stand down on Wash., Co. pot laws

A stark radio silence is emanating from Republicans on Capitol Hill in the wake of the Justice Department’s (DOJ) decision this week not to sue Colorado and Washington state, which legalized the recreational use of marijuana, or other states that have approved its medicinal use.

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While Democrats have largely supported the state initiatives — and lauded the DOJ’s decision on Thursday— Republicans have historically objected to the legalization and decriminalization of pot.

And yet, only a handful of GOP lawmakers have weighed in against this week's landmark DOJ announcement, which helped clear the muddy waters about how the federal government, which still considers marijuana a Schedule I drug along with heroin and LSD, plans to treat the state measures.

Both parties are increasingly seeing political opposition to marijuana’s legalization as a losing issue, pointing to the 20 states and Washington, D.C., whose voters have moved to legalize or decriminalize it for a range of uses.

More Republicans support legalizing pot now than at any time in the last two decades. According to a Pew Research poll conducted in April, 37 percent of Republicans back legalizing the drug — compared to only 11 percent of Republicans supporting such a move in 1990.

In making the announcement not to pursue legal cases against states that have approved marijuana use and sale measures, the DOJ and the White House reasoned that they were prioritizing their “limited prosecutorial resources.”

The DOJ has said it is planning to focus on prosecuting offenders who sell pot to minors, use the proceeds of pot sales to fund criminal or gang activity, traffic marijuana to states where its use is not legal, and “drugged driving,” in addition to four other offenses.

But neither Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) nor Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has issued a comment on the move, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has been mum on the matter as well.

Not all Republicans have remained quiet, however.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and cochairman of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, said the move is another example of the Obama administration’s disregard for laws “that it simply doesn’t like.”

Grassley's objections were not focused on his personal stance on marijuana legalization, however, so much as they were directed at the administration's approach to law enforcement.

“The administration is now effectively instructing law enforcement not to prioritize the prosecution of the large-scale distribution and sale of marijuana in certain states,” argued Grassley.

“This sends the wrong message to both law enforcement and violators of federal law. Apprehending and prosecuting illegal drug traffickers should always be a priority for the Department of Justice.”

In the House, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) also objected to the DOJ’s move, though he left the door open for a possible legislative fix that could iron out the differences between state and federal laws concerning marijuana use.

“Rather than Attorney General Holder choosing which laws to enforce as he sees fit, he needs to abide by the laws Congress has set,” said Gosar in a statement to The Hill. “If that means it is time for Congress to change existing law there is a process to do so but it's not by executive discretion.”

Gosar and Holder have been at odds for much of the last several years, beginning with the failed gun-tracking operation, "Fast and Furious."

Recently, Gosar stepped up his push to oust Holder from his spot as the nation’s top cop, avidly lobbying his House colleagues to support a resolution calling for the attorney general’s resignation. House leadership has shown no signs of bringing the resolution to the floor for a vote, despite its ability to attract 137 cosponsors.